This semester, I began my junior year at the University of the Sciences. After I made my schedule for the semester, I realized how much time I had after my classes ended for the day. I wanted to find an internship opportunity because I have always been able to learn more from working than from sitting in a classroom. As a student in a university environment where science is the main focus, I wanted to spend some time not in a lab, but with history.
When Dr. Katharine Rosenbaum Guest Boucot Sturgis was elected the first female president of the College of Physicians in 1972, it was one of only a series of firsts she had accomplished in her career as a physician, teacher, administrator, researcher, editor and consumer advocate. But Dr. Sturgis did not see herself as having accomplished anything special just because she was a woman. She once reflected, “I never looked at people as men or women or black or white.” Dr. Sturgis had great respect for all people while never complaining about how she had to compete and, ultimately, thrive in the male-dominated medical profession which she chose as her vocation.
She was born Katharine Rosenbaum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1903, and, at a young age, decided to pursue a medical career. She had to convince her skeptical father that medicine was a feasible vocation for a young woman. This was no small feat in an era where women were expected to be homemakers and not much else in the male-centric society in which she grew up. Not to be deterred, she convinced her father by making a dress from scratch with him knowing full-well that she despised sewing. Her father then relented and allowed her to attend college to study pre-med.
Katharine Sturgis, despite a debilitating two-year bout with tuberculosis which landed her in a sanitarium, eventually earned her medical degree from Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1942. Of her time at Woman’s Medical, despite her raising her two children alone, she once reminisced, “I never was given one iota of extra consideration, and I think that’s why I broke down with TB. I had to do everything everyone else did. There was no quarter shown.” This dogged determination to accomplish her goals despite obvious hardships would serve Dr. Sturgis well throughout the rest of her career.
While doing her residency at Herman Kiefer Hospital in Detroit, Dr. Sturgis came to the realization that research was her calling. She once reflected upon the neglect of research in the medical field, “Unfortunately, neither our profession nor the public has yet recognized the fact that we will never have enough clinicians for the sick unless we turn off the parade of illness.” Dr. Sturgis was to leave an indelible mark on the field of medical research before her career was over.
Dr. Katharine Sturgis’ years of research into lung cancer resulted in advances that came as a result of her participation in such projects as the Philadelphia Pulmonary Research Project. She was later to become a resolute advocate for cleaning up air pollution as well as an active naysayer on the dangers of smoking and its direct correlation to lung cancer. Dr. Katharine effectively lobbied for cleaner air standards from state and federal authorities while she served as the first woman president of the Philadelphia County Medical Society.
After serving as a board member of the College of Physicians since 1951, Dr. Sturgis’ tenure as president was short-lived due to health considerations. However, she left an ineffaceable mark on the College for her determined fundraising efforts and serving as chairperson of the Bicentennial Committee.
Dr. Sturgis’ awards and honors are too innumerable to mention, but two most precious to her were the prestigious Trudeau Award and her recognition as an Honorary Life Member of the American Lung Association in 1973. While reflecting upon her long and distinguished career in 1977, Dr. Sturgis humbly spoke, “I don’t kid myself that my career has made any major contributions to medicine, but as far as I am personally concerned, I’ve loved every minute of what I’ve done. I only wish I had more years in the field I love so much.” Dr. Katharine Sturgis was an exceptional doctor, advocate, teacher and researcher.
The Library of the College of Physicians contains a treasure trove of information on the life of Dr. Katharine R. Sturgis, a life that spanned such historically significant events as World War II, The Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and the United States Bicentennial. By researching her personal letters, correspondence, and newspaper articles, a student will get a real sense of how history unfolded through the words of such an outstanding person as Katharine R. Sturgis.
The links below will direct you to the catalog record or finding aid of the resource listed. Remember to check our library catalog and finding aids – these are only some of the great sources we have about Dr. Katharine Sturgis!
Edouard Seguin and educating the “feeble-minded” in the 19th century
Note: Many medical terms used in the past – even through the first half of the 20th century – are words that we find insensitive or cruel today. Like any field of history, it is important to keep in mind the time period in which the texts were written and to not pin our 21st-century beliefs on those of the past. As historians, it is up to us to observe, not to judge.
What is feeble-minded and what or who classifies an “idiot”? The word “idiot” was originally used as a medical term to describe people with intellectual disabilities, although it is used differently today. Other words that were used to describe people with intellectual disabilities were “imbecile” and “moron.” Doctors used these terms to describe the degrees of idiocy with “idiot” as the most disabled, followed by imbecile, and then moron as least disabled.
How was idiocy classified? Idiocy was classified in many different ways, and there were different types of idiocy. The different types of idiocies included Genetous idiocy, Microcephalic idiocy, Eclampsic idiocy, and more. Many people classified as “idiots” lacked certain brain functions, which could cause loss of hearing, smell, taste, sight, perception, and imitation. Some diseases could also change the size of a person’s head, such as Microcephalus, which causes shrinkage of the head, and Hydrocephalus, which causes the enlargement of the head.
Edouard Seguin was a doctor who stepped out of the box and did something others thought was hopeless: educating the intellectually disabled. Seguin was a 19th-century French-born American neurologist, and the first who founded a school for “idiots” called Seguin Physiological School. His schools were seen in many cities all over the United States, but his first school was founded in 1840 in Paris. He did this because he saw potential in the intellectually disabled and he had a great interest in mental diseases. Seguin’s work taught his students how to feel, smell, and hear different things, and taught them to talk or sign. Seguin founding the first physiological school inspired many doctors in the United States and Britain in the 19th-century to create schools for the “feeble-minded,” too.
Another school for the “feeble-minded” was Elm Hill Private School and Home for the Education of Feeble-Minded Youth, founded by physician Hervey Backus Wilbur in 1848 in Barre, Massachusetts. This school provided many things for the patients, including treatments and company. Different and interesting prescriptions were given to the patients, such as Fluid Extract of fucus vesiculosus, which was used for many things from weight loss to treatments for diabetes. This school didn’t only treat the patients, but also taught creativity in arts and crafts or dancing. Educational schooling was also provided, in the subjects of literature, geography, and arithmetic.
In the 19th century, one could be diagnosed as intellectually disabled as early as birth or due to gradual loss of intelligence. It was believed idiocy could be inherited, and although “idiotic” men and women rarely got married or had children, nearly 20 to 50 percent of “idiots” during the 19th-century were were thought to have inherited their disabilities. Marriages between relatives could create a defected baby even if both parents were healthy. Doctors believed some causes of intellectual disability included the mother going through trauma during delivery, and the mother drinking during the pregnancy. Doctors felt for a mother to prevent an “idiot” child, she needed to be at her best health and relax. The “feeble-minded” could be helped by seeking help from professionals, who would perform a variety of tests or surgeries to diagnose the disability and provide treatment.
The Historical Medical Library holds a variety of resources on the education of the “feeble-minded,” such as the Daniel Joseph McCarthy Papers (MSS 2/348). McCarthy was a doctor who believed that with proper exercise and diet that all “mental deficiency” would eventually go away. Another resource on the education of the “feeble-minded” is the book Leading and Select Cases on the Disabilities Incident to Infancy, Coverture, Idiocy by Marshall Davis Ewell. This book contains many different patient’s medical papers and their diagnoses when they were in school. More resources include other types of discoveries of the mind and mental diseases with pictures and personal diaries.
The links below will direct you to the catalog record or finding aid of the resource listed. Remember to check our library catalog and finding aids – these are only some of the great sources we have about the education of the “feeble-minded”!
The records generated by organizations provide important evidence about the organization’s history and function. In January of 2016, I started to process the College of Physicians of Philadelphia Office of the Executive Director records. The Director oversees the everyday governance and administration of the College. This includes overseeing the budget, strategic planning, special projects, and creating and maintaining relationships with other institutions. With so many responsibilities, the office generates a considerable amount of documentation, from correspondence to meeting minutes. The scope of my project includes processing boxes the Library received from the Office of the Executive Director and arranging them to better document the office’s administrative activities and governance duties.
Because the Executive Director’s Office produces so many files, the office keeps active records and sends the inactive files in boxes to the Library. Boxes arrive with varying levels of organization. Recently, the executive assistant to the current CEO requested minutes from a specific committee meeting. Although the material was located, it became clear that the collection needed processing to make it more accessible for current staff and future external researchers.
The anti-vaccination movement has been around nearly as long as the usage of vaccinations. Vaccines were first used as early as 10th century in China in the form of inoculations which is a slightly different process than vaccination. Inoculation uses the live and non-weakened form of the virus, while vaccinations use dead or weaken forms of viruses. The Western world didn’t begin the use of inoculations until the early 1700s.
Cotton Mather, a Puritan minister from Massachusetts, introduced large scale smallpox inoculations amongst his congregation in 1721 during an outbreak of the disease, but pushback came in the form of local clergymen and physicians opposed to the inoculations. Edward Jenner, who worked as a zoologist, scientist, and physician in England during the 1770s and 80s, was the first to inoculate patients from cowpox in England. Being such a new concept to the Western world, vaccines were in use in only a small population and very few knew what was the actual process was. Even Jenner was still working out the fine details of the inoculation to make it safer to implement. Despite the process being effective and Jenner being a Christian himself, there were groups who disagreed with his inoculations because of their own religious beliefs.
Although objectors to the vaccinations were adamant in their beliefs, most states, as well as the country of England, eventually passed their own laws on the need for a vaccinated population. Objections to these laws were due to the compulsory nature of the Acts. The 1898 Act added a clause that allowed “conscientious objectors” to refuse the vaccination. Through this clause parents could apply for an exemption from inoculations for themselves and their children. The Historical Medical Library (HML) holds a book called Sanitation v. Vaccination (1912), which argues that improvements in sanitation is what lowered the cases of diseases that were having devastating effects on the populations around the world.
There are many more examples like this in the form of pamphlets, books, news clippings, and images. One of the more recent historical anti-vaccination writings in the Library is from the United Lodge of Theophists (India, 1955) “Against Vaccination and Vivisection”. At the time of the publishing of this pamphlet, the anti-vaccination movement continued to argue against compulsory inoculations and were under the impression that Jenner had used his fortune that he made from his findings to push Parliament in his direction and fund the National Vaccine Establishment.
The Library holds many more items with examples of how the anti-vaccination movement has evolved over the years. From objections to vaccinations because of religious beliefs, then anti-compulsory issues, to mistrust in the governments and medical doctors that pushed for vaccinations: all of these reasons contribute to the anti-vaccination movements today.
The links below will direct you to the catalog record or finding aid of the resource listed. Remember to check our library catalog and finding aids – these are only some of the great sources we have about the anti-vaccination movement!